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The Race for Space: watch the pitches and meet the winners, Emergency Q and Feed My Furbaby

Having a great idea for business is one thing, but bringing that idea to life? That’s where the hard work begins. A few months back, Idealog joined forces with Smales Farm to host The Race for Space. The competition gave entrepreneurs, start-ups and early stage businesses a chance to battle it out for a year’s free office space at New Zealand's smartest co-working space, the B:HIVE, on Auckland’s North Shore. Six finalists, seven judges, some careful deliberation and countless blueberry muffins later, a decision was made. And out of the impressive array of finalists – from AI chatbots to hemp tampons – it was Emergency Q, a healthcare application, that came out on top as the winner, while Feed My Furbaby was runner up. Here, we have a chat with the winners. PLUS: watch the wrap video of the finalists pitching their ideas. 

Check out this behind-the-scenes look at pitching day, or read profiles on the two winners below. 

EMERGENCY Q 

Nothing is worse than the painfully long wait in an overcrowded emergency room. Except, perhaps, being told you could have skipped the six-hour wait and just gone to your GP.

Congested hospital emergency departments aren’t just frustrating for patients but expensive and potentially dangerous for the hospitals themselves. However, a new software is empowering patients and making waves in the medical world. And, as a result, it has walked away with first place at the B:HIVE’s Race For Space start-up competition.

Emergency Q is a new software and platform that connects Kiwi patients with healthcare facilities and practitioners, informing them not only where is best to seek treatment, but how long it will take and how much it will cost.

Healthcare AP Limited’s CEO, Morris Pita, said the inspiration for the concept came in the form of a pizza. While ordering takeout with his kids one weekend, Pita was impressed with how an app enabled him to order, pay and track when the food was being cooked and ready to collect. The software provided an experience that was clear, concise and user-focused, which was a very different experience from when Pita took his son to the hospital emergency department the following week.

“When we got there, it was the exact opposite to the pizza experience. No one told us if we were in the right place, or how long it would take to be treated, or what it would cost. With that basic information, we would have known we could have just gone to an urgent care clinic, instead of spending seven hours in the hospital,” Pita says.

Pita knew he wasn’t alone in this and says a large number of people are turning up to Hospital Emergency Departments with minor medical issues when it’s more appropriate for them to be seen by a local GP or an urgent care clinic.

Inspired by the ease and simplicity of the pizza app, Pita and his team began developing a software that would empower patients with easy to understand, logical and live data to help them make informed healthcare decisions. Through the Emergency Q app, users can find out what constitutes a medical emergency, check how long they will be waiting and the approximate cost of the visit from the touch of a button.

The whole operation has been entirely bootstrapped to date. Since launching its pilot last May at North Shore Hospital, the software has been met with great success, reducing their Emergency Department volumes by 12 percent and saving 7,500 patients from a total of 30,000 hours of unnecessary waiting. For context, that equals about three-and-a-half years of waiting.

With results like this, it’s no surprise that the software caught the attention of Middlemore Hospital, which will be deploying Emergency Q soon. Pita says the company will also be looking to raise investment at some point, but it is currently transitioning from pilot mode to commercialisation mode. The company earns revenue through charging fees to healthcare providers, but Pita says they save money as a result of the product.

“In the case of hospitals, they save money through reduced patient volumes, and vice versa for primary care clinics who treat additional patients as a result of using our software. It is free to patients,” he says.

And while there are thousands of health-related apps on the market, he says Emergency Q’s difference is its foundation as a software system.

“The big difference between us and everything else out there is we’re not an app, it’s just part of the overall system,” Pita says.

This “part of the overall system” ended up impressing the judges of the Race for Space competition and winning first place. Pita said the team were absolutely thrilled about the win.

“We’re hugely appreciative. It gives us a real opportunity to redirect resources that would have gone into funding office spaces into our product.”

He said the prize (six desks for 12 months at the B:HIVE’s co-working space) would give them the chance to take their vision past the $48 fold-out table they currently use in the office and expand their reach as a company. Looking ahead, Pita said Emergency Q wanted to keep rolling out the software system in other hospitals and clinics, while also hinting at the prospect of overseas opportunities.

“We’re beginning the process of looking at how our solutions can support patients in hospitals in locations outside New Zealand.”

It’s been a good few months for the Emergency Q team, which also received the Most Innovative High Tech Solution for Public Good award at this year’s NZ Hi-Tech Awards, an achievement they saw as yet another tick of validation for their idea.

As for any wise advice Morris wishes he could have given himself all those months back, the founder said it was all about resilience. “No is normal. As a start-up, you get told no probably four to five times more than you get told yes. Take heart, have faith in what you stand for and the problems you want to solve and don’t give in. Don’t get discouraged, get more creative.”

FEED MY FURBABY

Coming in hot on Emergency Q’s heels at the Race for Space competition was Feed My Furbaby, a pet food subscription company which grabbed the judges' interest, and second place, winning two desk spaces at the B:HIVE.

Founders and partners Amy and Ben Rennell said they were inspired by one of their stressful morning runs to the supermarket to buy dog food.

“It was a business idea that genuinely came out of our own pain point,” said Ben, who found himself with the same dilemma almost every month. “I thought this is crazy, there’s got to be a better way.”

So in October, the pair made space amongst their full-time jobs, children and dog, Jack to start ‘Feed my Furbaby’. What sets the service apart, according to Ben, is their algorithmic approach to pet feeding. The platform gets users to enter their dog’s size and activity level in order to create a personalised feeding plan. The company then delivers the food automatically in a functional, cardboard container system that has gained an innovative packaging award.

As for the Race for Space competition, the Rennells said it was a great experience.

“It was absolutely amazing to have that time with those judges. They all said we’ve got a great model, brand and product, but we need to have the guts to invest in it more and go bigger.”

Inspired by the judges’ feedback, the couple is dialling back the hours at their day jobs to move towards making Feed My Furbaby a full-time gig operating out of the B:HIVE – and say the co-working space will be invaluable in taking the business forward.

“Being in a space like this, we can be professional, we can grow up as a business and this is our launching pad,” Amy says.

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